Cavalera Conspiracy: The brutal brothers

Max Cavalera is in Olympic shape, and good luck to you if you want to keep up with his crazy rhythm! Not only does the man lead all the projects he takes part in, but three of them delivered an album in the space of a year: Soulfly released Savages, Killer Be Killed created their first record, and now Cavalera Conspiracy is releasing a third album, Pandemonium. He did warn us the last time we talked: even without a single riff written, he had a precise idea what this album was going to sound like. It was to be inspired from grindcore, “very brutal, very aggressive, and fast”. Those same three words come back all the time in this new interview. Too bad for those (starting with his brother Igor) who have to deal with his “dictatorship” during recordings: Max is commander-in-chief and his vision is law. At least it proves that trust is still going strong between the two brothers, and that they’re closer now than ever. Actually, the only innocent victims are their immediate neighbors, and the cops who had to come pounding on the door…

Max tells us all about the very “underground” creation of the album, his motivations, and the musical relationship he’s had with Igor ever since they were children. And to think he’s already planning Soulfly’s tenth album next year…

« When you grow old you have to be mellow, you have to slow down and listen to mellow music. Why? I don’t understand this concept. »

Radio Metal: You apparently had some specific ideas in mind before going into this new record called Pandemonium. So what was the state of mind in the end?

Max Cavalera (vocals & guitar): We wanted to make a real aggressive record. We thought it would be good to make a fast record with Igor. Pandemonium is based on the idea of two brothers playing fast metal like we did when we were kids. So, most of the record is aggressive, fast and really brutal. I like that, I think it’s more brutal than the other two records, more extreme, and I think it shows a real high energy on the live performance. A lot of the stuff was recorded live, Me, Marc and Igor playing together in a room, so it was like we captured the live [energy] of the band, and then we sent this stuff to Nate from Converge, so he can put bass on top of it and sing on one song. It was a really cool process. We did it in a house instead of a studio and I produced the record instead hiring a big producer. So it’s more punk and underground. Even the sound of the record is a little dirty; it’s not really polished but it was on purpose. We really wanted a real aggressive brutal sound so it fits the whole vibe of the record.

Where does this thirst for brutality come from?

That’s just from life itself, you know, situations. We’re still struggling, we’re still trying to pay bills, we’re still broke. Nobody’s a millionaire and nobody’s a big rock star that doesn’t have to worry about anything. We still have lots of things to worry about. There are a lot of fucked-up shits in the world that we sing about in the record. For me it’s natural to write aggressive songs. I learned to write aggressive song a long time ago and I love doing it. I hope I’ll never stop liking it. I enjoy writing these kinds of songs and these kinds of lyrics, and performing them live. I think it’s the best thing for us to do.

You stated how this album was very reminiscent of when you and your brother were kids and just jamming in a room. Can you tell us more about this creative process?

Yes. Like I said it was a more underground process. Instead of going to a big studio we went to our house in Phoenix and I have a friend of mine, John Gray, doing engineering job and I produced the record. Everything was between me, Igor and Marc; we did all the music in the studio. It’s really a kind of do-it-yourself process, with a real kind of punk-rock mentality that I love. Even with the sound of the record, I told John Gray I wanted the album not to sound beautiful but to sound kind of ugly and a little bit dirty and aggressive. I didn’t want the record to sound polished or like a big rock album but it should sound like some aggressive stuff that we listened to from back in the eighties, like old Entombed and Carcass, really heavy noisy stuff like that. So this was the whole mentality behind this underground, back to the roots kind of recording: going into a house, with me producing, keeping everything very underground, keeping everything with a punk mentality. I think it works for an album like this. It really shows on the record that the system works very well.

How has your musical relationship with you brother evolved with this album?

We started as kids loving death metal, black metal, thrash metal and we played really fast in the beginning. It was a lot of fun so we wanted to bring some of that youth back into the band. Me and Igor have a history of thirty years playing music. We started as kids in Brazil, when we didn’t even have instruments. He was playing in a sofa and I had an acoustic guitar, and we wrote the first song like that. We kept going, always trying to get better and try to evolve. Then we got a little bit more money, we bought some equipment and we carried on writing together. We always worked well together, we really connected. The way I work with him is really fun. We divide everything: artwork, the ideas for the album, etc. Even though I write the riffs and still write the lyrics, we all work together on the making of the record. And even though we are older now, you know, we are 44, 45 years old, it still feels like there’s a magic between me and Igor when we play. And we tried to capture that magic and put it back into the group. I think Pandemonium is really powerful and a lot of fans are gonna like it because it’s back to the roots, back to basics with Max and Igor playing metal with no bullshit. It’s straight up metal, in your face, loud, raw, aggressive and brutal; the way it’s supposed to be.

Do you have nostalgia of those times when you and your brother were making music as kids?

Yes but it’s still happening right now, you know. We do it right now and it’s so great to see the reaction from the fans. We put up the song “Banzai Kamikazee” and the reaction was fantastic. The fans love it. They say that if the whole album’s like that, they’re gonna love it. And the whole album is like that. So there’s nostalgia but there’s also the fact that we’re also living our dream right now, playing music, living for music and doing it together with Igor. I think we’ve been together since 2007 now and this is our third record and it shows that we’re here to stay.

How faithful have you remained to the kid you were back then?

Well, you know, we’re the same people. We’re just older and we now have families and kids. Our passion for music is the same. Me and Igor still love music and we trade information about bands that we like, I tell him about some heavy bands that I’m listening to and he tells me about some of the stuff that he listens to. We have some ideas already for future projects and our passion for music is the same as when we were kids.

« I had a vision for the record and I wanted to stay true to the vision. Sometimes, in order to do that, you have to be a little bit of an asshole »

I guess you and your brother with all of your projects and stuff don’t see yourselves too often now. And this Cavalera Conspiracy project is a way for you two to connect every once in a while, but don’t you miss sharing more time and music with him like in the old days?

Yes, probably. Now is actually a better time, because when we were together in Sepultura, there was a lot of stress, there was a lot of commotion and we didn’t really enjoy our time that well. I think it’s better now the way it is with Cavalera. Gloria manages us and keeps everything really good. We don’t tour a lot; we do a little bit of touring and then we come home. A little bit later we do a little bit more touring, so it’s not long exhausting tours like a lot of other bands are doing. We keep it like that and we often have our families on tour with us. It’s great to have our kids with us in the bus traveling around. I think this is the best way of working for me, you know, keeping everything within your family because you can trust them. You know that they’re not gonna backstab you and they’re not gonna sell you out. It’s a great way of working and I love working with family members.

You said that you were really a dictator in the studio with Igor to try to keep him from going into the groove and pushing him into playing fast. Did he accept easily this authority? Wasn’t he sometimes a bit rebellious?

Yeah but I did it for a good reason. I was looking out for the best for the record. I had a vision for the record and I wanted to stay true to the vision. Sometimes, in order to do that, you have to be a little bit of an asshole even in the studio and be kind of hard on the people working. So a couple of times, I had to stop Igor and tell him: “Don’t do this groove part, keep playing fast because we want the record to be fast and aggressive.” Some other songs I let it slide, like for “Not Losing The Edge” which has a little bit more groove. We can’t help it because we’re Brazilians and we have the groove within ourselves, it’s in our blood. But we tried to make a faster record, with less groove. In fact the nickname of the record was Fuck The Groove. We had that nickname in the studio. I had to be kind of a hard man to get the result but I think we have achieved the result that we wanted.

Isn’t it a bit counter natural for a drummer – and more so a drummer like your brother – to restrain himself from grooving?

Well, I think he did fine. There were only a couple of times when I had to interfere. The rest of the time he felt the music, he felt the riffs and played all the way through and gave a great performance. One or two songs every day we have got the drum down, so it was a whole week of recording drums and we got the best performance out of it. Because the drum is foundation: if you get a really good drum performance, you can build on top of it, you can add guitars, bass, effects and vocals, and make it really great. But if you have shit drums, a shit foundation, then everything is bad. So we had to get a really good drumming session first and I think we got it from Igor. The time spent with him in the studio was worthy, to make sure that we go the right results and the best performance out of him.

Do you always feel like being a dictator in the studio?

If it’s for the good of the record, I don’t mind. If I do it with a reason, you know, not being an asshole just for being an asshole but because you want to get something done right. It’s kind of a nice dictator, you know, not a bad dictator. It’s kind of like the movie Dictator, you know, with Borat…

You were quoted saying that “writing riffs is like therapy for me.” Can you further explain how is this therapeutic for you?

Yeah, I just sit down with my guitar and write riffs, it’s a really fun thing to do. It’s a great way of spending time. My equipment is very basic and very old school: I have a four-track machine, a drum machine, my guitar pedal, etc. And I just sit down with the guitar and just try to come up with the coolest riffs I can possibly come up, stuff I can use later. I often write just for the record, you know, like the Cavalera album; I was writing all the riffs just for the Cavalera album because I had the idea of what the album is going to be about: fast and aggressive. I wrote a lot of this stuff really fast with the drum machine and programs, but l love just sitting with my guitar and just writing riffs. I think it’s a great way of killing time for me. I sometimes spend eight-ten hours just writing riffs all day long and I don’t even see the time going by. And when I look at the clock, it’s already midnight and I’ve been recording all day long. It’s just great, I love doing that.

One of the surprises in this album is your voice: you use a very deep growl, almost unrecognizable. How did you get this sound out of your voice?

That’s two vocals together. It’s actually four tracks of vocals. Two of them are my regular voice and for the other two I sing really low. When you put all them together, it becomes almost like evil. And I only used it on a couple of songs that I thought needed extra heaviness like “Babylonian Pandemonium” or “Scum”, I think I use it on “I, Barbarian” too. For some of the other songs I just used the regular Max voice. I love to experiment with my voice. Sometimes in the past I experimented with high-pitched screams and some talking – just me talking with some effects, like I did on “Inner Self” back in the day. And I still love experimenting, I still find it surprising. With some of the stuff, I end up creating with my voice in the studio. One of them was this low voice and we were really surprised that we got that result. Even the engineer were like: “I didn’t know you could sing that low!” And I thought that if you mix the voices, then you would get those effects that sound super-low. I sing less high on this album, I wanted it to be more aggressive low almost like death metal sounding. But it’s fun! If you can do different things with your voice, why not? I’m not a singer. I can’t sing melodic like Bruce Dickinson or Ozzy Osbourne but I do have a recognizable voice that I can do some stuff with. And I think that experimenting with my voice is fun. It’s part of your own discovery of your own musical ability. If you can push the limits of yourself by doing different stuff, why not? It’s all for the best for the album. I thought for this record a low voice would be perfect for a song like “Babylonian Pandemonium”: it opens the record with this crazy voice. When we heard it, we were like: “Wow! This is fucking crazy, it sounds so brutal!” And we loved it, so we decided to keep it like that.

« When we were together in Sepultura, there was a lot of stress, there was a lot of commotion and we didn’t really enjoy our time that well. »

Nate Newton is playing bass on this album. With each new Cavalera Conspiracy album, you choose a different bass player while the rest of the band remains the same. What’s the reason for that?

Well, I don’t know! We’ve got a problem with bass players! We couldn’t keep one. We had Johnny Chow for a while bur he ended up joining Stone Sour. We had Joe [Duplantier] from Gojira on the first record and he was great. I love Joe and he did a great job and I love Gojira. We ended up having Nate Newton playing on the new album…. I love Converge! We were looking for bass players and people that we love. We have a list of people like Dan Lilker and… There are some other guys on the list, I don’t remember… Martin Eric Ain from Celtic Frost and Nate from Converge… And we decided that Nate would be the best because we love Converge and this album having more of a grindcore influence, Nate’s distorted bass would be perfect. I think we were right. We also had the chance to have Nate singing one song, “The Crucible”, because he also sings for Doomriders and he’s got a great voice. So it was great to work with him and I think he’s gonna do some touring with us next year. We’re looking forward to that.

Could the song “Scum” be a homage to Napalm Death, being the name of the first Napalm Death album and since the song actually sound a lot like Napalm Death?

Yeah, the names of some songs are a little tribute to the things that we like. We love paying tribute to the bands that we like. I listen to a lot of grindcore, so this album has a lot of Pig Destroyer, Napalm Death, Lock Up and all these great noisy bands. Of course there’s an influence from all these years of listening to these bands and it comes out with songs like “Scum”, “Babylonian Pandemonium”, “Not Losing The Edge”… Those are really cool songs that connected with the underground music that we love so much, this metal music that we all love so much.

The song “Not Losing The Edge” is about strength, relevance and endurance. Is this something that you feel defines you and your career? Not losing the edge, is this something you always keep in mind?

It’s a bit about personality. It’s about an idea that I had about growing old and not falling into what people say: when you grow old you have to be mellow, you have to slow down and listen to mellow music. Why? I don’t understand this concept. For me, you can grow old and listen to heavy music and get heavier and heavier. So I’m here to prove that the theory is bullshit and I’m here to say that we can grow old and play fast and be more aggressive. If you want to, it’s up to you. This is what “Not Losing The Edge” is about. It’s about proving to yourself that you’re still metal, you know, that your soul is full of metal and you’re not afraid to say that to the world.

So would you say that you will play aggressive music until the end?

I will. I will. Especially in these days where heavier music is being more accepted everywhere in the world. Even in America there are satellite radios that play heavy music all day long now, and it’s becoming more and more natural for heavy music to be a part of people’s life. So I think that the more these things happen, the more it allows us to keep doing what we do. I don’t see any problems doing this as I grow older, until I’m 60 or 70. I think that if you can do it, there’s no problem.

The closing song “Porra” at the end of the album feels a bit apart in the album being the only one with strong Latin music influences. Where did that song come from? Did you feel like you needed a bit of that Latin sensibility from your roots to close out the album?

That was just fun. Igor came up with the idea of making a tribal song for a b-side. I like b-sides to be something a little bit different from the rest of the record. So doing that tribal song, for us was quite different. We worked on it a lot and spent some time on that song. I think Marc put some beautiful acoustic guitars on top of it, Igor laid out ten different percussions on top of each other, I ended up putting berimbau in the beginning and all the vocals are in Portuguese. It’s a cool song but it’s a b-side, you know, so it’s not really part of the album. But for it being a bside, I think it’s pretty cool.

The cover artwork is very surprising with all these elements and colors, very different from the cover artworks on any of your past albums. What was the idea behind that and how does this connect to the content of the album?

Yeah, we had to do something different. The first two records had the logo, one in red, one in black. We needed a real artwork this time and Igor came up with the idea of using his friend Stephan Doitschinoff. He’s a Brazilian artist, a really cool artist who started as a graffiti artist, you know, doing graffiti in the streets, but now he does galleries, paints like whole cities and his book is amazing. We explained to him the concept, and the first idea for Pandemonium was actually having a tank with the Babylon tower on top of the tank. But Stephan decided that it would be cooler to have a very menacing looking tank with a skull on top of it and all these little details like factory, globes and flags with very cool colors like faded greens and blues. It’s really colorful but kind of old looking, old style looking. I think it’s a great cover, especially on vinyl. I think it’s gonna look amazing on vinyl. It’s one of my favorite artwork we’ve done in a long time. I really like the final result. The inside of the package is gonna look great, we did some more designs for the inside and everything. So I think it was great that Igor found this guy and it was perfect for this album to have this kind of artist for Pandemonium.

« If the police are coming in the middle of your recording, then you must be doing something right. »

There’s a funny story about this album where the cops came down to the studio because of the neighbor who had called them because of the noise from the drums. Does your brother hit the drums that hard?

Yeah, because it was a house, you know, this was a regular house in a normal neighborhood and the walls were shaking. We had the drums quite loud and he was hitting pretty hard. That did happen but I thought it was great, it was just a funny situation. I really thought it was cool that that happened [laughs]. I didn’t care for the fact that the cops were there. I actually thought it was a sign of something cool about the album. If the police are coming in the middle of your recording, then you must be doing something right.

And what did the cop do or say?

Just to try to keep it down, but we were in the last days of drums anyways, so we told him we had finished our drums today and tomorrow it won’t be so loud, you know, once we do guitars we won’t have Igor banging on the drums and it won’t have to be so loud. And that was okay, he bought the story.

Didn’t you want to invite the cop singing on the album? [Laughs]

Yeah, we should have done that! We should have made an intro of him complaining! We should have recorded the cop complaining and put it on the record, but we didn’t think about that at that time. Later when I thought about it, I thought: “Damn it would have been a great recording! If we could have got that on tape, we could have used it for the intro or something.” Maybe next time if that happens again.

This year you did the Savage album with Soulfly, then went directly to do the Killer Be Killed album and then went directly to do this Cavalera Conspiracy album, all with no down time, really. How do you manage to revitalize yourself with such working rhythm, jumping directly from one album to another?

Yeah, I just go right through it. The projects are different on themselves. The Soulfly record, with Terry Date producing and Zyon playing drums, was one thing. Killer Be Killed was a different project with Josh Wilbur producing and playing with the guys from Mastodon and The Dillinger Escape Plan. Cavalera was also different because it was more underground, produced by me, made in a house. So each record has its own different things about it that enables me to create differently, like the environment of the records which are different. The places where I have recorded are different: one was done in Seattle, the other one was done in LA, the other one was done in Phoenix. The place is also an influence when you make the record. Each place was different from each other. I just love to be busy. I love to just jump in the projects, get involved and do the best I can for the record. I’m not happy until the final result completely meets my expectations, you know, I have to put the stamp in the end saying: “Ok this is the best I could do for this record.” I say to myself: “This is the best I could do” then it’s finished. I move on to the next record and try to do the same. I try to give all the best I can do, to put all my ideas, all my energy, all my creativity into the record and try to make the best out of each situation.

What will be your next project now?

Next will be a new Soulfly next year. The tenth record is a big number for us and I am going to work real hard on this new Soulfly record.

Interview conducted by phone 9th, october 2014 by Spaceman.
Retranscription: Thibaut Saumade.
Traduction and introduction: Spaceman.

Cavalera Conspiracy Official website: www.cavaleraconspiracy.com.

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